January 21st, 1885. From the Freeman’s Journal.
Mr. Mayor and ladies and gentlemen, the Mayor has kindly claimed for me your indulgence, and indeed last night when I set out upon the journey which he has described to you I felt a sinking in my heart lest when I should reach Dublin I should find myself unable to go any further, or to keep my engagement with you this evening, but when I approached Ireland I found myself getting better and better, and when I landed—when I reached Dublin, and came near your beautiful city of Cork the change became increasingly marked, so that when I reached your city I felt myself quite restored and strong, as if nothing had ever been the matter with me.
But at the same time I do intend to claim your indulgence this evening, and to make my remarks much shorter and fewer than they would have been under other circumstances. The previous speaker, Mr. Mahony, has reminded you and me that it wants a month or two of five years since the constituency of Cork honoured me by making me its representative.
My victory was a very remarkable one. Coming, as I did, amongst you, and representing the principles which I did represent, it was extraordinary that in the limited constituency of the city at that time, and with the ideas which then prevailed amongst the constituency you should have selected such a politician as me your member. Your late respected member, Joseph Ronayne, had often told me that it was impossible for Cork to return two Nationalists, and my return was the first occasion upon which two members of my way of thinking sat for and represented your city.
But great as was the advance marked by my return by a very narrow majority it was as nothing to the change which has since taken place. Altogether, leaving aside the great extension to the constituency which the Franchise Act has made, you have since shown in the election of my able colleague, Mr. Deasy, that it is no trouble for you to elect any number of Nationalists, and the present constituency of Cork under the Franchise Act will leave you in a position free from care so far as the choice of your representative goes. I do not suppose that the will of Cork will ever again be contested by the oligarchy in this city. At the election in 1880 I laid certain principles before you, and you accepted them. I said, and I pledged myself, that I should form one of an independent Irish Party to act in opposition to every English Government which refused to concede the just rights of Ireland. And the longer time which is gone by since then, the more I am convinced that that is the true policy to pursue so far as Parliamentary policy is concerned, and that it will be impossible for either or both of the English parties to contend for any long time against a determined band of Irishmen acting honestly upon these principles, and backed by the Irish people. But we have not alone had that object in view—we have always been very careful not to fetter or control the people at home in any way, not to prevent them from doing anything by their own strength which it is possible for them to do. Sometimes, perhaps, in our anxiety in this direction we have asked them to do what is beyond their strength, but I hold that it is better even to encourage you to do what is beyond your strength even should you fail sometimes in the attempt than to teach you to be subservient and unreliant. You have been encouraged to organize yourselves, to depend upon the rectitude of your cause for your justification, and to depend upon the determination which has helped Irishmen through many centuries to retain the name of Ireland and to retain her nationhood. Nobody could point to any single action of ours in the House of Commons or out of it which was not based upon the knowledge that behind us existed a strong and brave people, that without the help of the people our exertions would be as nothing, and that with their help and with their confidence we should be, as I believe we shall prove to be in the near future, invincible and unconquerable. The electors—the old electors—the electors who will be swamped in the great mass of Irishmen now admitted to the rights of the Constitution so far as they existed in this country, were, on the whole, faithful to their trust. Indeed, it was not until we showed by a good many proofs that we could do without an enlargement of the franchise, and that with the old restricted suffrage we could do all that was necessary in the way of Parliamentary operations, that the opposition to the admission of the masses of the Irish people to the franchise disappeared. But I look forward to the future with a light heart. I am convinced that the five hundred or six hundred thousand Irishmen who within a year must vote for the men of their choice will be as true to Ireland, even truer to Ireland, than those who have gone before them, and that we may safely trust to them the exercise of the great and important privilege, unequalled in its greatness and its magnitude in the history of any nation, which will shortly be placed upon them. I am convinced that when the reckoning comes up after the general election of 1886 that we in Ireland shall have cause to congratulate ourselves in the possession of a strong party which will bear down all opposition, and which, aided by the organisation of our country behind us, will enable us to gain for our country those rights which were stolen from us. We shall struggle, as we have been struggling, for the great and important interests of the Irish tenant farmer. We shall ask that his industry shall not be fettered by rent. We shall ask also from the farmer in return that he shall do what in him lies to encourage the struggling manufactures of Ireland, and that he shall not think it too great a sacrifice to be called upon when he wants anything, when he has to purchase anything, to consider how he may get it of Irish material and manufacture, even suppose he has to pay a little more for it. I am sorry if the agricultural population has shown itself somewhat deficient in its sense of duty in this respect up to the present time, but I feel convinced that the matter has only to be put before them to secure the opening up of the most important markets in this country for those manufactures which have always existed, and for those which have been reopened anew, as a consequence of the recent exhibitions, the great exhibition in Dublin, and the other equally great one in Cork, which have been recently held. We shall also endeavour to secure for the labourer some recognition and some right in the land of his country. We don’t care whether it be the prejudices of the farm or of the landlord that stands in his way. We consider that whatever class tries to obstruct the labourer in the possession of those fair and just rights to which he is entitled, that class should be put down, and coerced if you will, into doing justice to the labourer. We have shown our desire to benefit the labourer by the passage of the Labourers Act, which, if maimed and mutilated in many of its provisions, undoubtedly is based upon correct lines and principles which will undoubtedly do much good for that class, and undoubtedly will secure for the labouring classes a portion of what we have been striving to secure for them. Well, but gentlemen, I go back from the consideration of these questions to the land question, in which the labourers’ question is also involved, and the manufacturers question. I come back, and every Irish politician must be forcibly driven back, to the consideration of the great question of National Self-Government for Ireland. I do not know how this great question will be eventually settled. I do not know whether England will be wise in time and concede to constitutional arguments and methods the restitution of that which was stolen from us towards the close of the last century. It is given to none of us to forecast the future, and just as it is impossible for us to say in what way or by what means the National question may be settled, in what way full justice may be done to Ireland, so it is impossible for us to say to what extent that justice should be done. We cannot ask for less than restitution of Grattan’s Parliament, with its important privileges and wide and far-reaching constitution. We cannot under the British constitution ask for more than the restitution of Grattan’s Parliament, but no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further,’ and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood, and we never shall. But, gentlemen, while we leave those things to time, circumstances, and the future, we must each one of us resolve in our own hearts that we shall at all times do everything that within us lies to obtain for Ireland the fullest measure of her rights. In this way we shall not give up anything which the future may put in favour of our country; and while we struggle today for that which may seem possible for us with our combination, we must struggle for it with the proud consciousness that we shall not do anything to hinder or prevent better men who may come after us from gaining better things than those for which we now contend.